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The (Im)mobile Life of Digital Tourist Photographs: Summary

In ‘The (Im)mobile Life of Digital Photographs: the Case of Tourist Photography”, Jonas Larsen examines how digital cameras and digital methods of dissemination have radically altered photo-tourism.

One of the central changes affected by this technologically motivated increase in speed is the photographer’s connection to his or her photographs. Unlike the delayed gratification offered by the development of an analogue negative at a later date, digital technology offers instantaneous capture and instantaneous dissemination, though this may depend on certain economic and technological barriers (like access to technology and internet service abroad). “While several of the respondents expressed a longing for paper photographs and physical albums,” he notes, “few actually printed their digital images, and the computer screen is where most viewings take place” (39). 

Their ease of capture seems to have also reduced the singular importance these photographs may have once held (31). “Equipped with digital cameras,” he emphasizes, “tourists tend to photograph faster, spending less time on each photograph” (32). As a result, photographers feel less compunction about deleting them, ushering in what Larsen calls “the new temporality of photographs” (33). 

So too has the ubiquity of cameras in mobile phones rendered photography mobile and connected to social networks on an unprecedented scale. The rapidity of these shifts is borne out by Larsen’s suggestion that despite its brief life, digital photography should already be divided into two phases, and claims that current photography belongs to the 2.0 phase. Larsen isolates the cause of this split in the growing capabilities and technical sophistication of mobile phones, which eventually lead to the mobile phone serving as a practical and inconspicuous replacement for the traditional camera.

Larsen concludes by suggesting that this alteration from analogue to digital entails a distinct loss of ‘aura’ in photographic objects. He draws on Barthes’ analysis provided in Camera Lucida–involving a photograph of Barthes’ mother as a child–to further emphasize the impact of time on the reception, collection and display of photos as mementoes. “The photographic object is a richer and more tactile thing,” he notes (31), which is further bolstered by the visual impact of the photographic image. The digital object, he argues, loses the former quality, its presence. In this way, the computer can serve to immobilize photographs while denying them a material existence (39), and the eventual obsolescence and decay of those hardware and storage devices render digital photographs inherently more fragile than analogue ones (42).


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